As the National Union of Students’ (NUS) National Conference approaches, I can’t help but feel dread and a burning regret of ever having put my hand up for election as a delegate. Student politicians will soon converge on Geelong to debate policy positions, and to throw mud at opposing student factions.
They will spend an entire week doing this before patting themselves on the back and returning to their respective campuses. I feel like these theatrics would be acceptable if those elected to office bearer positions through factional deals and double-crossing actually did their jobs to any sort of standard.
The most successful thing to come out of NUS this year is probably the ‘Talk About It‘ report, which sheds light on the unacceptable rates of harassment and sexual assault perpetrated against women-identifying university students across Australia. The Student Wellbeing Survey, which was undertaken in collaboration with headspace, has also recently finished collecting data.
Propranolol: Probably the only way I’ll get through NatCon. (Image: Wikipedia)
Other than those two examples, we haven’t seen much; endless online petitions, duplicates of federal Labor campaigns on $100,000 degrees, a blatantly ideological campaign on parallel import restrictions and a lazy selfie campaign designed to help people with mental illness (or help student activists pat themselves on the back).
To their credit, office bearers have a limited amount of time to develop, build, refine, execute and evaluate a campaign. Perhaps the level of research and coherence that I am looking for is not possible for students elected for a single term, who also presumably have studies to complete.
But instead of developing the ideas, policies and initiatives that students need, we will likely spend a significant amount of time at National Conference watching opportunistic wankers sledge one another. I will be very surprised if we don’t see at least one delegate from Newcastle spend their time attacking other delegates in front of their factional mates instead of actually doing anything of merit.
Presumably this behaviour is practice for Parliament; each speaker will go home and attempt to find an MP to attach themselves to and brown-nose for the next fifteen years, like some kind of parasitic slug. Some hacks, of course, have already found a host.
One day, the shrivelled husk of the once-proud MP will be too tired to re-contest their seat, and the young political hack, face smeared with feces, will rise to the challenge. It’s like something off National Geographic.
NUS, and student politics more broadly, is stifled by its insular and cruel nature. If you are from the wrong place (see: literally everywhere apart from Sydney and Melbourne), or you are affiliated with the wrong faction, your input and your ideas are not likely to go anywhere on a national level. Closer to home, you may expect death threats, rumours and smear campaigns, property damage and more.
Student politicians apparently do not kid around. For some reason.
It’s an environment and a culture that is not conducive to involving new people. It quickly becomes an echo chamber dominated by the same people who all think the same thing. Student associations and representative bodies already struggle to attract intelligent, policy-minded people because they are legitimately afraid of being publicly roasted or humiliated.
You can pretty much forget about involving anybody new who has lived experience of severe mental illness or disability.
Most students simply just don’t see the value of getting involved at all.
And, to be honest, I’ve got to wonder the same. Do you know how much of your collective SSAF funds get funnelled into these groups so that they can get together, beat their chests and then go home?
I wish I didn’t.
Story image: ‘DSC03689v2’ by alijava on Flickr.